Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema is a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs. This fluid collects in the numerous air sacs in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.


Pulmonary edema signs and symptoms may appear suddenly or develop over time. The signs and symptoms you have depends on the type of pulmonary edema.

Sudden (acute) pulmonary edema signs and symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea) or extreme shortness of breath that worsens with activity or when lying down
  • A feeling of suffocating or drowning that worsens when lying down
  • A cough that produces frothy sputum that may be tinged with blood
  • Wheezing or gasping for breath
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Anxiety, restlessness or a sense of apprehension
  • Bluish ips
  • A rapid, irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

Long-term (chronic) pulmonary edema signs and symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing with activity or when lying flat
  • Awakening at night with a cough or breathless feeling that may be relieved by sitting up
  • More shortness of breath than normal when you’re physically active
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Swelling in your lower extremities
  • Fatigue
  • New or worsening cough

High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) signs and symptoms

HAPE can occur in adults and children who travel to or exercise at high altitudes. Signs and symptoms are similar to those that occur with acute pulmonary edema and can include:

  • Headache, which may be the first symptom
  • Shortness of breath with activity, which worsens to shortness of breath at rest
  • Decreased ability to exercise as you once could
  • Dry cough, at first
  • Later, a cough that produces frothy, pink sputum
  • A very fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Weakness
  • Chest pain
  • Low-grade fever

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